AFC Wimbledon started 2021 with a defeat today after pushing League One leaders Lincoln City all the way.
An 83rd minute goal by Tom Hopper earned a 2-1 win for the visitors after Ollie Palmer's first Wimbledon goal had offered the hosts a good chance of earning a positive result against a real in-form side. Indeed, the Dons - shorn of several key squad members - played very well for long spells against the leaders.
Due to a combination of Covid-19 and injuries, Wimbledon’s squad included young professionals Archie Procter, Zach Robinson, Huseyin Biler, and Jack Currie. All four were on the bench with the possibility of playing at Plough Lane for the first time after progressing through our academy ranks. Wimbledon’s line-up included just five players who started the game at Oxford United, but all 11 had League One experience this season and the return of Joe Pigott after injury provided a real boost. Pigott was joined up front by Ollie Palmer, who was aiming to make an impact against his old club. Alex Woodyard, another former Lincoln player, made a timely return to the heart of midfield after suspension.
Lincoln came to Plough Lane aiming to consolidate top spot in League One, but they were without manager Michael Appleton, who was self isolating due to a positive Covid-19 test. The Dons attempted to catch the visitors off guard early on and there was a positive sign when Jack Rudoni smartly found space with a nice turn, but his subsequent shot was over the crossbar. At the other end, Cheye Alexander, switching to an unfamiliar left-back slot with Steve Seddon having gone back to Birmingham, did very well to divert a dangerous cross out for a corner. However, it was only a temporary reprieve for the Dons as the subsequent flag-kick was half cleared to the edge of the box and Tayo Edun struck a fine effort that found the bottom corner.
Conceding in just the eighth minute against a side flying high at the top and full of confidence made it a difficult task for the Dons. However, Wimbledon started to come into it as the first-half progressed and Joe Pigott came very close to an equaliser on two occasions in quick succession. First, our top scorer got on the end of a lovely cross by Shane McLoughlin, but his header was just wide, and then his shot from just outside the area was well saved by Lincoln keeper Alex Palmer. With Jaakko Oksanen patrolling the midfield like he had never been away, well supported by Woodyard and Rudoni, in the centre of the park, Wimbledon continued to look threatening.
Considering the determination shown by Wimbledon to get back into this game, it was no surprise when the equaliser arrived. It was worth waiting for too as Ollie Palmer showed power and strength to head home emphatically at the back post in the 31st minute, the chance set-up by Mcloughlin’s lovely cross from the right after a corner had been played short. It was Palmer’s first goal for Wimbledon since joining us in the summer, the towering striker demonstrating the aerial ability that had made his signing a priority for Glyn Hodges. Shortly afterwards, Palmer also headed just over the crossbar as Lincoln struggled to cope with his strength.
It had been a very encouraging response from Wimbledon since falling behind and the Dons fully deserved to at least level at the break. At the start of the second-half Wimbledon attempted to build on it and Pigott spotted Alex Palmer off his line, but his shot from range was over the crossbar. McLoughlin continued to probe down the right when the opportunity arose to join the attack and he produced a power-packed run down the right, but his cross lacked accuracy on this occasion.
As we approached the hour mark, Wimbledon had certainly made light of the points gap and had created more clearer opportunities than the visitors. The Dons came close to taking the lead through Rudoni, who fired just wide after a good move. Through Lincoln maintained a threat, Wimbledon defended resiliently and a sign of that was McLoughlin's battle with Jorge Grant. The Irish wing-back demonstrated his tenacity by standing up to Grant's threat and the Lincoln forward's frustrations boiled over when he caught McLoughlin late and was deservedly booked.
With 22 minutes left Glyn Hodges made his first change with Ethan Chislett replacing Pigott, who had worked tirelessly on his return. There was a let-off for Wimbledon with 17 minutes remaining when Anthony Scully sent over a superb cross from the left that only needed a touch to convert, but the ball evaded everyone in the box. The visitors made no mistake though in the 83rd minute and it came in frustrating fashion for the hosts. Paul Kalambayi was unable to clear a cross, and it fell nicely to Tom Hopper, who steered home from close-range. There was no coming back from that late blow. On the balance of play, defeat was harsh for Wimbledon, but the hosts yet again paid the ultimate price for a defensive lapse.
AFC Wimbledon: Connal Trueman, Daniel Csoka, Alex Woodyard, Terell Thomas, Cheye Alexander, Ollie Palmer, Jack Rudoni, Jaakko Oksanen, Shane McLoughlin, Paul Kalambayi (Paul Kalambayi), Joe Pigott (Ethan Chislett).